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Beyond This Place by Slide
Chapter 21 : Of Bloodlines and Ideals
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2

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‘Knock, knock.’ Tobias stuck his head in round the door to Jen’s office and lifted a wrapped sandwich as she looked up. ‘I come bearing lunch. Consider it a favour repaid.’

Jen looked tired and worn, but smiled when she saw him and waved him in. ‘I only brought you breakfast.’

‘Then you can still owe me a little.’ Tobias set his staff against the wall and pulled up a chair, passing the sandwich. ‘I’m okay with that.’

She cocked her head, looking him up and down. ‘You look... better.’ Her eyes fell on the staff. ‘Does that make walking easier?’

‘Not especially,’ Tobias admitted, pulling out his own sandwich. ‘But it makes me think it does.’ He took a mouthful as she looked quizzical, and sighed. ‘Last time I carried that, I was fighting a war. Sometimes? That’s not such a bad mentality to have.’

‘Annoyingly, I know what you mean. But you do look better.’

He hesitated, guilty and not sure why. ‘I went to see Tanith last night. We patched things up.’ Another hesitation. ‘We’re engaged.’

To his surprise, she smiled - even if it was a tired smile. ‘Congratulations. I mean, it is good, isn’t it?’

His genuine smile broke through. ‘It is! It is, I just... all of a sudden feel a bit like an ass that something good came out of a horrendous day for you.’

‘At least something good came out of it for someone. Well, for you. Her, I care less about.’ Jen shoved papers to one side and pulled her sandwich over. ‘It seems a little sudden.’

‘I understand how it looks that way,’ Tobias conceded, ‘but it’s not. I... she and I... it’s such a long story. We spent so much time dodging and dancing around each other that now we’re here, now we have the rest of our lives spread out before us - I just can’t imagine spending it with anyone else. There’s nobody in the world who knows me better.’

‘And her? Is there anyone in the world who knows her better than you?’

He heard the other question, the real one, in her voice, and gave a gentle grimace. ‘I didn’t know,’ he admitted. ‘And yes. That kind of thing was... part of the problem. We’d been holding out on each other, almost without realising it. I won’t... pretend to defend her to you. But the war took its toll in ways I didn’t realise.’ Tobias took a deep breath. ‘But we talked about it. A lot. We’re moving forwards.’

Jen’s small smile returned. ‘...I’m glad you’re happy, Toby.’

‘Thanks. But I didn’t come here to talk about me. It would have just seemed disingenuous to not let you know.’ He leant forwards, voice softening. ‘Are you okay?’

‘I...’ She dropped her gaze. ‘Gabe knew. I mean, I’d known he’d seen Nick’s death, but he didn’t tell me it was Cole who...’

Tobias closed his eyes. ‘Shit.’

‘Yeah.’ She picked at the sandwich. ‘I can understand why he didn’t tell me. But at the time, when he refused to give me details, he gave me this song and dance about it being to protect me... and then last night he admitted it was probably more to protect her.’

‘Are you two okay?’

‘We rowed. A lot.’ Jen grimaced with guilt. ‘For our first real fight, it was... a doozy. But we’re moving forwards.’

‘Shit on top of shit. I’m sorry.’ He drew a careful breath. ‘For what it’s worth, the injunction’s holding up. The world doesn’t need to know this.’

‘The Wizengamot does.’ She fumbled a lock of hair behind her ear. ‘Not my brightest hour. I thought I was past this...’

‘It wasn’t that long ago. Nobody can expect you to just be over it. And time doesn’t do everything. I still have nightmares of when Annie...’ Tobias grimaced. ‘There’s no rulebook on how good or bad you need to feel. And it’s allowed to vary from day to day. You loved him.’

Jen’s shoulders tensed, and her gaze went upwards. ‘You know what?’ she said, so quiet he almost couldn’t hear her. ‘At the end? I didn’t.’

Tobias opened and closed his mouth, fighting for words, and in the end settled on a calm, ‘I don’t understand.’

‘We were Hogwarts sweethearts,’ she sighed. ‘And we’d been together since, what, fifth year? For over three years. And we were ill-suited then, but it was... kind of what I loved about him. His free spirit. When we left school, at first, he seemed reluctant to take anything seriously, and I wanted to do well at my job, and he didn’t care as much - we rowed. A lot, for that first month. And I kind of thought... we were drifting apart. That we wouldn’t make it outside of Hogwarts. And then the war started, and he was a Muggle-born, so he went on the run immediately. I barely saw him until we intercepted his prisoner transfer and had to go on the run together.

‘And then we didn’t exactly have the same relationship problems when we were fugitives at war. And even the old problems seemed less important because he was familiar. Comforting. Close. And what the hell, was it really time to sit down and talk about where our relationship was going when the government was hunting us? Though that’s not to say I didn’t want to be with him, it was just...’ She sighed, and shook her head. ‘I don’t know. It was weird. But having him by me was still better than the idea of not having him by me.’

‘It was a lousy time to be alone,’ Tobias agreed. ‘In so far as our experiences matched up.’

Jen looked down. ‘I was alone. You know what Nick was like. Fiery. Impetuous. And the war made him more serious, it made him grow up, but it didn’t calm him down. I think it made him angrier. And so I had to be the calm one, the stable one, the level-headed one - not just in our relationship, but in the Lions as a whole. I had to be the leader they could look up to, I had to be the rock. And I had to be his rock. And I couldn’t ever - ever falter.’

Tobias made a face. ‘That sounds rough. For you, and for the relationship. I’m sorry.’

‘It made a rift,’ Jen said. ‘Or, it made the rift even bigger. I think by the end we stood side by side because we didn’t know how to do any different. But I’d begun to lock so much of myself away from him so I could be what he needed, what the others needed, that we weren’t... two halves of a whole any more. Not by the end. It’s hard to say I fell out of love with him, but...’ She fiddled with a quill on the desk. ‘I was once told that you don’t fall out of love with someone. You just become a different person over time, and so do they, and maybe the person you become isn’t in love with the person they’ve become. But the person you once were is still in there, still loving the person they were...’

‘That makes sense to me.’

‘That’s how it was at the end. I wasn’t the girl who’d loved Nick, and he wasn’t the boy she’d loved. Though that part of me kept hanging on to him. But... I didn’t love him.’

‘You don’t need to beat yourself up about that. You have nothing to feel guilty for.’

‘What makes you think I’m guilty?’

‘That’s what this is about, isn’t it?’ Tobias gave a sympathetic smile. ‘He died, and you think you betrayed him somehow by... not loving him enough, or by the idea that you were deceiving him. It was war, and you stood by him, and you didn’t lie to him.’

‘I kind of did.’ Jen fiddled again with the quill. ‘And by “kind of”, I mean I did. Because when I was lonely, and when I needed to be strong for the rest of the Lions, there was one person, just one person, who could see me be weak and it didn’t matter.’

Tobias nodded. ‘Gabe.’

‘I started telling him last night, for the first time, but... he doesn’t really know. Not all of it.’ Jen hesitated. ‘I guess I really can’t stand in judgement of you and Cole not properly telling each other important things, can I?’ She made a face. ‘Or for him not telling me things.’

‘Jen, you know as well as I do that we can’t live for the dead. We can remember them. And I could talk about how they’d want us to live on, or whatever, but still most of that is crazy - we live on, because life goes on, and if the dead would begrudge us that then... that doesn’t matter, because that would be selfish of them.’ Tobias grimaced. ‘You know what I mean.’

‘I do,’ she said with difficulty. ‘But it doesn’t make it easier to have it all dredged up again. Cole was... I can’t imagine what position she was in. An impossible one. I know. I’m hardly okay with it, but... I know.’

‘If you’re looking for someone to blame,’ Tobias said, ‘it doesn’t need to be her, no. But it doesn’t need to be you, either. Thanatos Brynmor makes a great scapegoat when it comes to murders he actually ordered.’

‘...only following orders,’ Jen muttered. ‘We talked about this, weeks ago.’

‘And we both said there are different kinds of “only following orders”. I guess we need to make sure everyone gets the same chance. A good chance.’

‘I’m working on it.’

‘Then give yourself a chance, too. I know you’ve had a rough time. But you don’t need to hide or beat yourself up. And certainly don’t hide from the people who can help you.’

‘I haven’t been. I almost did,’ Jen conceded, and her expression twisted. ‘I can’t hide things from Gabe for long. I just hope he has as hard a time keeping secrets...’

‘I have never seen him like he is with you,’ Tobias said. ‘Never. I don’t think he knew how to be like that before you.’

She gave a smile. It was small, and it was tense, but it was genuine, and she picked up the sandwich. ‘I’m going to actually try to eat this now.’

‘You should, it’s good for you,’ he said with a smirk.

Lunch was easier then, and he could see a loosening of the tension in her shoulders as they chatted. Now the spectre of an ailing relationship was no longer the darkest shadow over his thoughts he’d managed to get tense and apprehensive of the election, which by now was less than a week away, and a lunch not spent staring at numbers was a welcome relief.

He paused at Tom Everard’s desk on the way out, frowning with concern at his former fellow prefect. ‘Hey. You okay?’

Tom stopped rubbing his eyes to give Tobias a wan smile. ‘Oh. Hey, Toby. I’m fine, I’m fine. Just a late night. Is Jen okay?’

‘Yeah, she’s... just fine.’ Tobias shifted his grip on his staff. ‘You better not be over-working.’

‘Bit rich of you to lecture me on that, isn’t it?’ said Tom, with reasonable humour. ‘Oh, hey, I’ve got some friends down in the MLE; I heard Tanith was attacked last night...’

‘She’s fine too,’ said Tobias, unable to stop a small smile on his face. ‘Even with... everything.’

‘Even with that stuff we’re not allowed to talk about?’ Tom’s grimace was difficult to miss. ‘Makes you think, huh. You think you know someone...’

‘Tom.’ Tobias tensed a little. ‘Everything’s fine.’

Tom seemed to realise, at last, that he was making a bit of a faux pas, and cleared his throat. ‘I’m glad,’ he said, and managed to sound halfway sincere. ‘Don’t let me keep you.’

Tobias nodded, trying to push Tom’s more graceless implications out of his mind as he left. He shouldn’t have been surprised; Tom had been there in the courtroom, Tom had known Nick and Cormac for years. Even if Jen was being a bit more philosophical and self-flagellating about it all, it didn’t mean everyone would be.

Overall, it made him more confident the injunction had been the right choice.

Against all of his habits he’d treated himself to an afternoon off, one of the few bits of free time he knew he was going to get for the next few days, but these were appointments he refused to miss. So when leaving Jen’s office he made it down to where he could apparate away from the Ministry securely, and arrived in a neat, tidy back yard of a quiet terraced house he knew very well.

After all, he’d lived there for eighteen years.

He knocked on the back door before letting himself in, and was in the kitchen by the time his mother came in through from the living room, smiling at the sight of him. ‘You’re on time. This is a novelty.’

‘I came from lunch, not work. Apparently I’m better at leaving friends on time,’ he said before going over to hug her. ‘How’s unpacking?’

‘A work in progress,’ Melissa Grey said, returning the embrace. ‘They can say I’m back in Britain for a while all they like, but I know Gringotts. They’ll have me in New York next if the rumours are accurate, and within all of a few weeks.’

‘You think that’s likely?’

‘Likely enough my shoe collection is staying right where it is. Tea?’

He sat at the kitchen table, letting his mother fuss over him in a way she didn’t usually do and he didn’t usually let her, but their time together had been so limited in the past eighteen months that it was a welcome indulgence. ‘You shouldn’t let them uproot you like that,’ Tobias said. ‘It stops, you know. Roots.’

‘I’ve been perfectly comfortable without roots for the past two years,’ she said, putting the kettle on. ‘But speaking of roots...?’ She quirked an eyebrow.

He couldn’t help but grin, feeling as giddy as a schoolboy and quite okay with this. ‘She said yes.’

Then his mother was hugging him again, as best one could when he was sat and she was standing, and when he looked up at her he could swear her eyes were shining. ‘Congratulations.’

‘Thank you. And... thank you for the ring.’ He didn’t let her go. ‘It really means a lot to me - stupidly lots to me - that you’d let me give it to her.’

Melissa pulled up the chair next to him. ‘I kept it to remember your father by - but I don’t need a ring to remind me of him. I remember him every day. And I certainly remember him every time I see you. Besides.’ She clasped her son’s hand. ‘He gave me that ring because he loved me. I prefer the idea of you being able to give it to the woman you love, to keep that love eternal rather than to keep my grief eternal.’

Tobias nodded awkwardly. ‘It really is perfect.’ He drew a deep breath. ‘If you’re still here after the election we’ll have to have dinner together. The three of us.’

‘Just the three of us?’ Melissa looked wary. ‘Are the Coles not to be invited?’

‘I’m sure we can do more than one dinner,’ Tobias conceded. ‘But I’d like you two to, you know, get to know each other. You’ll really like Tanith. And...’ He rolled his shoulder. ‘And maybe the Coles don’t know yet.’

‘She hasn’t -’

‘They’re an old family, Mum, there are... certain ways of doing this, you know all about that. And I’m going to see Daedalus Cole next.’

She made a face. ‘You’re asking permission?’

‘Tanith knows it’s ridiculous, she just thinks it might... appease him a bit. To do him the courtesy. It’s not like it matters, but I’d rather not be at war with my future in-laws from the get-go.’

‘The Coles aren’t exactly renowned for their forward thinking.’

‘I think a lot of what we know about the Coles is what they’ve wanted to project,’ Tobias said delicately, ‘but no, they’re not the most liberal of families. I know that was a significant rift between them and Tanith over the years.’

‘So long as she has a good head on her shoulders, that’s the important thing,’ said Melissa. ‘Of course it’s easier if you get on with the family, but do not, do not compromise yourself, your relationship, or your happiness for the sake of them. They should not influence what matters at all.’

He gave her a wan smile. ‘How did you and Dad handle it?’

Her expression went wistful. ‘I told my parents. And unsurprisingly, they told me that it was completely out of the question, and impossible, and I was going nowhere. And I’d already packed, so I grabbed my trunk and went to the car Robert had parked outside.’ She shrugged. ‘Much as I expected, really. And I didn’t see them again until after he died.’

Tobias’ expression sank, like it often did when she was talking about his father, and he reached for her hand again. ‘ know, this is why I worry about you travelling for work so much,’ he said carefully. ‘I want you to be happy, Mum, not just living vicariously through me.’

Melissa looked amused. ‘What makes you think I’m not happy?’

‘Then I don’t want you to be lonely.’

Her eyes fell on the kettle. ‘I’ll get the tea.’

He didn’t press the issue through the rest of the drinks, and his mother knew him well enough to know when he was delaying, so before too long she was expressing how she’d have to get into the office and he should be on his way. He doubted she did have anywhere to be, but something was going to have to make him dare to visit Daedalus Cole.

So he left without argument, and when he arrived, he didn’t let himself hesitate as he marched from the copse he’d apparated into, didn’t let himself linger as he tromped up to the front door and rapped on it with his staff. He’d considered whether or not to bring it, but concluded that it made him look better than the cane did, and anything which reminded onlookers of his days from the Midnight Press was something worth cultivating.

There was silence for long moments, and he allowed himself to step back, to peer up at the windows and doors of this great old house for any sign of movement. Of course, the absence of movement didn’t mean they were out. They could have been anywhere and he wouldn’t have seen the family.

It seemed a huge place for just Daedalus and Gaia Cole, however.

Eventually the door creaked open and he was shown in by a rather obsequious House Elf, even by the standards Tobias had come to expect of House Elves over the years. The estate was not much changed from the last few times he’d been here, he thought, but as he was led through the house up to Daedalus Cole’s office he found his breath quickening, his throat tightening, and his desire to admire his environment rather faded in the face of thudding nerves.

By the time he was shown in to the study he thought that his heart had to be pounding loud enough to deafen both of them.

Daedalus Cole was sat behind his broad oak desk, hands steepled as he watched him come in, and he gave a small, thin smile. Tobias could see the caution in his dark eyes, the uncertainty as to what this was about, and hoped that the man was expecting something ominous.

It might make this a pleasant surprise.

‘Mister Grey. It’s been a while.’

‘Mister Cole.’ Tobias shook his hand. ‘Thank you for seeing me at such short notice.’

‘I’m always prepared to make time for the Office of the Minister. Can I get you a drink?’ He gestured to a whiskey decanter on the wall.

Tobias hesitated, then considered that doing his utmost to appease the man was sensible. He inclined his head. ‘I won’t say no,’ he said, taking a seat. ‘Though I fear there may have been a certain miscommunication. I’m not here on behalf of the Minister.’

‘Of course, of course,’ said Daedalus, pouring two glasses of firewhiskey and giving one to Tobias the moment he’d set his staff to rest against the desk. ‘I understand completely.’

Tobias hesitated, glass in hand. ‘I’m not sure you do, sir,’ he said. ‘I’m really not here on behalf of the Minister. My business here is purely personal. About your daughter.’

He saw Daedalus hesitate - and that was apprehension in his eyes, Tobias realised, along with fear. He set down his glass deliberately as he sat. ‘Then what can I do for you?’

Tobias realised he had underestimated the sheer levels of paranoia at which Daedalus Cole operated in his everyday life. He took a deep breath. ‘There is nothing bad, sir. At least, I hope very much my business here proves to be nothing bad. But it would be discourteous for me to not attend upon you under the circumstances.’

Daedalus’ expression pinched a little. ‘What circumstances would those be?’

‘She and I have discussed the matter,’ said Tobias, feeling the wall of formality come up as both a defence and a barrier - for them both. ‘But you are her father, and it is only appropriate I come to you.’ He drew a sharp breath. ‘I seek your -’

Permission? Oh, the hell with this.

‘I’ve asked her to marry me,’ he said instead with a surge of pride. ‘And she’s said yes. But I know it’d please her if we had your blessing.’

He’d meant, all day, to phrase it differently. Meant, all day, to be asking him for permission, for the right to ask his daughter to spend her life with him, even though he’d known it was just a gesture, nothing more, nothing less.

And now, face to face with him, he realised that even though he was there because Tanith thought it might make everything go smoother, he still wasn’t going to pretend that Daedalus Cole could influence their decision one inch.

His potential father-in-law was looking at him with a rather bland, almost dull expression, and drew a careful breath. ‘My blessing,’ he repeated. ‘If you have already asked her, do you need such a thing?’

‘I think you know your daughter well enough to answer that, sir,’ said Tobias, shoulders tense. ‘But we should like it all the same. As I said. I know it would please her.’

Daedalus Cole continued to look at him for several seconds - then he pulled a sheaf of parchment from a pile on his desk, scribbled something on it, and flicked his wand at it. The parchment folded itself up before flying across the room at the fireplace, where it disappeared into the flames with a flicker of green.

And this is where he’s summoning the wild nifflers to come chase me out of here.

‘Your mother is Melissa Hart, am I right?’

‘Melissa Grey,’ Tobias corrected, a sinking sensation in his stomach. ‘But yes, she’s Abraham Hart’s daughter.’

‘And -’

‘And my father was Robert Grey, son of Thomas Grey. Who was a farmer from Yorkshire.’ Tobias couldn’t help but feel a spark of perverse satisfaction at flaunting his father’s roots, not just Muggle, but common Muggle. ‘If you wish for my credentials, sir, I was Head Boy at Hogwarts, I’m a former Enforcer of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, a former attaché of the British Ambassador to Russia, and the former Editor-in-Chief of The Midnight Press. At present I am the Acting Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation, the Communications Director of the Office of the Minister of Magic, and last year I spent a considerable length of time as the most wanted man in Britain after Harry Potter.’

He met Daedalus Cole’s gaze, knowing it wasn’t his credentials that were in question, knowing the moment his mother had come up where this was going, and feeling searing disappointment at the prospect.

He’d known Tanith had conflicted for a long time with her family, but with everything she’d told him about her father he’d hoped that it had been more of a front than this.

‘It is certainly not your personal achievements that are in question, Mister Grey,’ said Daedalus Cole. ‘I recall The Midnight Press, I recall your hard work and dedication. But it’s -’

Then the air right next to Tobias cracked and he almost threw his whiskey in the air in surprise as a shape appeared next to him.

It was Tanith, coat flapping around her, wand in hand, eyes wide. Before she’d even registered Tobias was there, her eyes had fallen on her father, gaze anxious and panicked. ‘Dad? Are you okay? You sent an emergency -’

Daedalus had rocked in slight surprise at the interruption but didn’t seem at all taken aback that it was his daughter stood before him. He picked up his whiskey and lifted a hand. ‘Tanith. Thank you for coming.’

She lowered her wand and looked around, frowning with dawning apprehension as she spotted Tobias. She gave her father a forlorn look. ‘You said this was an emergency.’

‘It is,’ said Daedalus coolly. ‘I’ve just been having a very interesting conversation with Mister Grey here. So please do take a seat, dear.’

Tanith holstered her wand and planted her hand on her hips. ‘I just left in the middle of work because I thought something was wrong.’

‘And this need not take long. Do sit down.’

Tobias was nonplussed as she sat next to him, her expression wan. He was starting to suspect Daedalus Cole was a lot crazier than he’d first anticipated.

Tanith’s father took a calm sip of whiskey and looked at them. ‘Mister Grey has informed me that the two of you are engaged. Is this correct?’

There was a defiant tilt to her jaw. ‘Yes.’

Then Daedalus slammed his glass down on the desk with the first real display of emotion he’d given since Tobias had arrived. ‘Have you taken complete leave of your senses?’

Tanith’s jaw dropped. ‘Have I...?’

‘You are a Cole, and you intend to marry a man who is, at best, from a disgraced branch of an old bloodline, and at worst the son of a Muggleborn wizard?’

‘You care about that?’ Tanith sounded as bewildered as she did outraged. ‘You, who went to Azkaban because of all you’d done to fight against Voldemort? You care that I’d be marrying -’

‘It’s not about what I think!’ snapped Daedalus. ‘You marry him, and the wizarding world will know you as a woman who married a man whose grandfather was a Muggle. You marry him, and the wizarding world will see your children with a Muggle name, not a wizarding name.’

‘Merlin’s bloody -’ She shook her head, and Tobias thought it best right then to let her handle this. It wasn’t as if she couldn’t do righteous outrage on his behalf. ‘So what?’

‘So?’ Daedalus’ eyes widened. ‘So they will judge you, they will watch you. They will undermine you and work against you. You will be ostracised and targeted, every single time there is a need for someone to be targeted. Even more than some Muggle-born would be hated, you will be hated as a traitor to the principles which they value, because a traitor is hated far more than an enemy.’

‘I’m no traitor of theirs, I was never on their side -’

‘It doesn’t matter what you think,’ Daedalus said. ‘It matters what they think, and they - the people who wriggled out of blame for the Dark Lord’s acts, the people who agreed with his principles and not his methods, the people who are still not silenced with the end of the war, will think you a traitor.’

‘This is crazy, Dad, the world has changed.’

Not enough!’ Daedalus thundered, slamming his fist down on the desk and knocking over a pile of papers.

But the outburst looked like it was all he had left, and certainly Tanith had no coherent answer to give, and as silence fell upon all three of them her father sagged in his chair, the strength fading from him as did the anger.

Only then did Tobias see what was in Daedalus Cole’s eyes. Not anger, or hatred, but fear.

‘I protected myself, and this family,’ he said, voice suddenly quiet, hollow, ‘by presenting to the world the image that I was everything they expected me to be, wanted me to be. And so they left us alone. Left you alone.’

‘No, Dad,’ said Tanith gently as she got to her feet. ‘They didn’t. And you know that I’m not you. You know that I have never fought my wars silently.’ She went around the desk to wrap her arms around her father. ‘And I won’t fight this one silently, either.’

Tobias looked at his hands. He’d gone from apprehensive to outraged to now feeling like an awkward interloper in a conversation he himself had sought.

‘The world is changing,’ Tanith pressed on, carefully. ‘It’s changing, every day, and it will get better. But more than anything else, it certainly won’t get better without people to make a stand and show that it can be done.’

Daedalus Cole drew a deep, pained breath. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘But why does it have to be you?’

‘I didn’t make this choice to be difficult,’ said Tanith, and looked up to meet Tobias’ gaze. ‘But I never was good at choosing the easy road.’

She straightened, and her father scrubbed his face with his hands. ‘I know,’ he repeated, and now he looked to Tobias. Suddenly he looked much older, much wearier, as if the months in Azkaban had caught up with him all at once. ‘I apologise, Mister Grey,’ he said at last.

‘You aren’t the first person to make dubious inferences about my parentage,’ said Tobias, as kindly as he could manage while still smarting. After all, while it wasn’t the worst this conversation could have gone, it wasn’t ideal.

‘No, I - my questions were not for personal issue with yourself. And I know about your father, I know what happened to him.’ He hesitated, as if he’d said too much.

‘He knows, Dad,’ said Tanith a bit wearily. ‘No, I haven’t told anyone else. But he knows. It was kind of hard for him to not know after everything with Altair.’

‘That man was a Squib and probably the bravest and smartest fellow I ever knew,’ said Daedalus, hasty but sincere as he met Tobias’ gaze. ‘But understand that I have seen so many brave and smart people still suffer for their principles. And while I will fight for mine I have never thought it fair that my family see the ill consequences of my actions.’

‘I can... appreciate that,’ said Tobias with a guarded air.

‘I suppose now is a more appropriate time to bring this up,’ Daedalus continued, his eyes going to his daughter, who pulled back with her own apprehension. ‘It had only been a germ of an idea but it’s one I discussed with my lawyer. I’ve been drafting up my will lately -’

Tanith looked confused, but pained. ‘Oh, Dad -’

‘No, listen to me,’ he pressed as she sat back down. ‘I have to plan for the future of everything that I’ve made. And it’s something your mother and I discussed, on the topic of the inheritance. The business, the house.’

She shrugged awkwardly. ‘I assumed Evadne -’

‘Evadne is married into the Spragues,’ said Daedalus with a slightly dismissive air. ‘She doesn’t need my money, though yes, she’ll get a good chunk of it. But while I have absolutely no regrets when it comes to yourself and your sister, the one way in which I have failed is that the Cole family will come to an end with me. The least I can do is make sure that my estate and life’s work don’t just get absorbed into the Sprague family.

‘And while I may not have agreed, my dear, with your forthright way of fighting for what you believe in, I have accepted it. Eventually,’ Daedalus conceded. ‘And as the last thing I would wish for is any daughter of mine to suffer for her principles, I certainly don’t want to see you languishing and struggling on an Auror’s paycheck - which, as I recall, is hardly as grand as perhaps it should be considering all of its risks.

‘Make no mistake. I have no intention of this house needing to be passed on any time soon. I shall be here for many years to come. But when I am not.’ Daedalus looked between the two of them levelly. ‘May it fall to you. These estates, and the bulk of my wealth, to you two. And to your family.’

Tobias crinkled his brow. ‘That’s very generous, sir,’ he said, bewildered. ‘But five minutes ago you were against the idea of Tanith marrying a man with a Muggle name - and now you’ll have that Muggle name be the one that will hold your life’s work in perpetuity?’

Daedalus gave a polite smile. ‘I make a point of never arguing with my daughter if my initial point bounces,’ he said calmly. ‘I suggest, Mister Grey, you adopt a similar policy if you two wish to have a happy life together. She has an irksome tendency of both standing her ground and being right.’

Tanith’s jaw had dropped. ‘Dad...’

‘I think this is risky. And foolhardy. And I think that you will make enemies you have never met, and may never meet, and I think that even if they will not influence your decision, then you must make efforts to be aware of these dangers. We do not live our lives in a vacuum, my dear. People react to our decisions and whether you like it or not, agree with it or not, ignoring those reactions could be dangerous. But.’ Daedalus Cole leant forwards. ‘If this is what you want. If this is the man you wish to build your life with. And if you are prepared to face these risks, then all I can do is help you.

‘And the best way I can help you is by letting you make the point you will be making, boldly and proudly. And what better way to do it than for the Cole family to fall to the Grey family, for a... union. Of bloodlines and of ideals.’ He clasped his hands together. ‘And, because I know you have not made this choice to make a statement, the best way I can help you be happy together is to ensure that there is one less worry before you. You will have all the trials and tribulations of a long life together before you. You might as well cross wealth or where to live off those trials.’

He got to his feet, and extended a hand to Tobias. ‘I followed your actions in the war with great interest. You have nothing but my admiration and respect for what you did, for the sacrifices you made. You came here today, Mister Grey, to ask for me to bless this betrothal; I have stated my reservations, they have been rejected, and therefore I have little choice but to accept this, and to give you my approval wholeheartedly.’

Tobias stood also, shaking Daedalus’ hand with a rather befuddled expression, and his future father-in-law let go and turned to Tanith. ‘But now you’re here, you are certainly to stay for dinner. Both of you. Your mother will be most keen to hear the news and to see you. Both of you.’

Tanith opened her mouth, but whether it was to accept or refuse, Daedalus lifted a hand. ‘It’s decided,’ he said firmly, ‘and I shall go inform Dacey at once to make ready.’

Then he was gone, sweeping out of his own office, and Tobias was left with his hand still extended and a completely bewildered look on his face. By the time he spoke, his voice sounded almost too loud in the silence as it broke it. ‘I don’t mean to alarm you, love,’ he said, ‘but I think your father’s crazy.’

Tanith stood, going to his side and taking his hand. She, too, seemed rather stunned. ‘I didn’t expect that,’ she admitted in a low mumble. ‘Any of it. I suppose I should have; this was the man who told me when I was seventeen that I shouldn’t admit too loudly to Slytherin House that I wanted to fight against Voldemort. He’s... always been concerned about not just doing the right thing, but keeping safe against the consequences.’

‘I suppose I have to respect some of that,’ said Tobias a little numbly. ‘You told me all he’s done, and he has done all that with most of the world thinking he’s just... another pureblooded patriarch. Hardly anyone knows the good he’s done and he accepts the complete lack of adulation or glory.’

‘But,’ she prompted gently.

‘But that wasn’t only about how people might see you, us, as a target for marrying,’ Tobias said carefully, turning to face her. ‘It was, a little bit, upset at his daughter marrying a half-blood.’

Tanith’s gaze went wistful and apologetic. ‘It was,’ she conceded. ‘Even if he’s not acting on it... it was.’ She lifted his hand to her lips, and the gentle kiss she planted on his knuckles was enough alone to begin dismissing the tension in his back that had settled in from the confrontation. ‘But, just as I didn’t need his approval for us to marry, you don’t need his... surely?’

He smiled gently at the hesitation in her voice, and stepped closer. ‘No. Though I’ll try to get it, anyway, because I know it matters to you.’ He let out a deep breath, the smile going wry. ‘Wow. This is actually... feeling a bit more real, now.’

Her eyes danced. ‘It didn’t feel real enough last night?’

‘You know what I mean. Pieces are falling into place. Plans. Our life.’ He entwined their fingers closely, bowing his head to rest his forehead against hers. ‘This is a good kind of scary.’

‘I’m glad,’ she murmured, closing her eyes, and the two of them stood there for a moment, basking in this small victory. ‘Because it’s not going to get any easier from here. After all.’ A small smile played at her lips. ‘Dinner with my family might be the bad kind of scary.’

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